This very rare lamp-stand belongs to a group of fine white wares that was made in north China in the period encompassing the end of the Sui dynasty and the beginning of the Tang. The body material for these wares is pale and fine-grained, while the glaze is transparent and largely colorless with a faint greenish tinge. While a number of lamp-stands were made in various types of ceramic during this period, those incorporating dragons on their central column are very rare.
A number of earlier ceramic lamp-stands employed animals either as decoration on the central column or themselves providing the central column. An early Yue ware lamp-stand, dating to the Eastern Jin dynasty (AD 317-420) in the collection of the Percival David Foundation illustrated by Rosemary Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art - A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 34, pl. 15, has dish-shaped upper and lower pans, and the figure of a bear provides the central column. Another similarly dated lamp, excavated in 1970 and now in the collection of the Hubei Provincial Museum, has the figure of a man as the central column. See Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 197, no. 54. A lamp-stand with a foreigner riding an elephant providing the central column is illustrated in Treasures from the Rietberg Museum, The Asia Society, New York, 1980, no. 46.
The use of lotus forms for part of lamp-stands was also well established amongst early wares. An inverted flower made up of individual petals stands in the lower pan of a green-glazed lamp-stand dating to the 6th century of the Southern Dynasties period, now in the Hunan Provincial Museum. See ibid., p. 218, no. 135, while several candelabra from the same period are known with inverted lotuses providing the form of the base, for example the five-cup candelabra in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, illustrated by Y. Mino and K. R. Tsiang in Ice and Green Clouds - Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1986, pp. 98-9, no. 34. A Northern Qi (AD 550-77) lamp-stand, excavated in 1979 from a tomb in Shanxi province, with an inverted lotus base edged with beading is illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Taoci juan, op. cit., p. 115, no. 404. A 6th century lamp with inverted lotus upper pan and inverted lotus stand in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is illustrated by Suzanne Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York and London, 1989 ed., p. 55, pl. 48. The central column of this lamp, which has brown and green glazes, also has four emerging mythical beasts alternating with four masks.
An extremely similar lamp-stand to the current example is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Boston vessel, from the collection of Charles B. Hoyt, is now missing its cylindrical upper section. This lamp-stand not only shares the general form and glaze-color of the current example, but the same style of dragons, and even the low plinth apparently made to resemble flat stones, on which the dragons stand within the lower pan of the vessels. The height of the Boston vessel, minus its upper section, is 27.5 cm., compared to the current vessel's 31 cm., suggesting that the vessels were originally the same height. See J. Fontein and Wu Tung, Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 10, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Tokyo/New York/San Francisco, 1980, col. pl. 8. Wu Tung has suggested that the combination of dragon and lotus on these vessels may have been influenced by contemporary stone Buddhist lanterns, ibid., p. 158, no. 8, referencing Yasuhito Mayuyama, Chugoku Bunkitsu Kenbun, Tokyo, 1973, pl. 75. Also in the Hoyt collection is a Tang white-glazed lamp-stand with plain dished pans, a longer ribbed central column and with its cylindrical upper section intact, ibid., pl. 56.
There are two censers which relate quite closely to the Hoyt and the current lamp-stands. A green-glazed censer, dated to the Sui dynasty, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, has a shallow lower dish, a central column encircled by two dragons of similar form to those on the current lamp-stand, and also has a similar bowl of overlapping lotus petals. See The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 31 - Porcelain of the Jin and Tang Dynasties, Hong Kong, 1996, p. 89, no. 81. The lid is essentially of boshan type, but made up of individual sprig-molded jewel-like elements. For a white-glazed censer of much the same form, but with a dished lower pan standing on a similarly splayed foot to that of the current vessel, in the collection of the Yamato Bunkakan Museum, Nara, see M. Sato and G. Hasebe eds., Sekai Toji Zenshu - 11 - Zui To, Tokyo, 1976, p. 33, no. 20.
A white-glazed lamp-stand with similar cylindrical upper section to that on the current vessel, but with plain upper pan, excavated in 1956 from a site in Henan province is illustrated in Symposium on Ancient Chinese White Porcelain - Proceedings, Shanghai Museum, 2005, p. 701, pl. 55. The central column of the Henan piece is longer than that of the current lamp-stand, and ribbed, but interestingly the base is decorated with inverted lotus petals.
A smaller, simpler, Tang dynasty lamp-stand with its central column encircled by dragons in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 31 - Porcelain of the Jin and Tang Dynasties, op. cit., p. 185, no. 171. This example bears a brownish-green glaze, has a cylindrical upper section, dished upper and lower pans, and stands on a splayed foot.
The dragons seen on the current vessels and those relating to it are all of a particular form characterised by sharply pointed head, angular leg joints and slender, whip-like tails. Such dragons can be seen in relief on ceramic tiles from the Eastern Jin dynasty, such as those preserved in the collection of the Nanjing Museum. See Xu Huping, The Treasures of the Nanjing Museum, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 48, no. 33. Similarly-shaped dragons are also seen in metalwork of the Tang dynasty, the most famous example being the gilt-bronze dragon excavated in 1975 at Caochangbo, Xi'an, illustrated in World of the Heavenly Khan - Treasures of the T'ang Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002, p. 72.
The result of Oxford Authentication thermoluminescence test no. P208b19 is consistent with the dating of this lot.